five for friday, volume 3

…and now for something a little lighter…

I spent six days in Santa Barbara visiting friends on my own. There was much rejoicing and much napping, sometimes in the sun like a cat.

kid quote:

This is an oldie (see: out of town sans kids)… Lilly was twenty-four hours old.

Me: Girls. Get off your sister.
J: We’re not on TOP of her.
K: We’re covering her.
J: We don’t want others to see her!

book:

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans. This is the first RHE I’ve read and, in line with yesterday’s conversation on fear-based clean and safe Christianity, this is one that would have been off the reading list some years ago because she comes to some theological conclusions I don’t. BUT she did point me to the God who is good, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy. Beautifully written.

recommendation:

I listened to all available episodes of the podcast Last Day. They zoom in on the day someone died (this season, of opioid overdose) and zoom out to tell how they got there. Real stories, told with empathy and respect for the families and the addicted. This is not an “out there” problem.

moment of happiness:

I biked around Santa Barbara for the most part, because my Airbnb hostess also rents ebikes and so I skipped renting a car this trip. I biked half an hour to Butterfly Beach, sunscreened up, laid on my face on a towel, and slept for an hour. It was bliss.

little bit of nature

Dear SB:

Thank you so much for being full of lovely flowers, trees, succulents.

Sincerely,
Robin


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 31-days-of-speaking-the-truth-1-1.png

This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.

Advertisements

clean and safe Christianity

I have no use for fear-based faith anymore.

Oh, I used to, for sure. I’d make up all kinds of rules about which things were safe and which music I definitely didn’t listen to (and which I would listen to but not purchase…) Am I allowed to watch Smurfs? Read Harry Potter? I’m not knocking discernment in media consumption, but I wasn’t doing it to be discerning, I was doing it to be good. It all gave me this illusion that I could make myself acceptable and keep myself that way.

The phrase seems like a punchline to a bad joke: fear-based faith. An obvious oxymoron. But it’s so common (or perhaps just in my little evangelical subculture?) that I sometimes forget how absurd it is.

Fear-based faith starts with the assumption that we’re doing okay, so long as nobody screws it up. I mean, yeah, everyone is a sinner, but we have our sin problem managed right now with our quiet times and our praise choruses. But it’s important not to let “wolves in sheep’s clothing” into our midst. That guy who has some doctrine that doesn’t square with our reading of scripture? We won’t read his books—they might lead us into error. The group from the church with some questionable theology? We definitely won’t sing a word of their music, regardless of the actual content, for fear their views will infect our relatively healthy space.

The problem, of course, is the premise: we are not “relatively healthy” and, aside from the Bible itself, there is no material that meets the inerrancy criterion. We’re all a mess, and any music or books or teaching or anything that isn’t the Bible is going to be from human origin, and whoever that human is… they’re a mess, too. So we end up drawing these arbitrary lines around whose doctrine is “too far” and whose is “close enough” and it’s all completely incoherent.

I cannot hold any human author/artist/theologen to the standard of inerrancy. To do so is to put them in the place of God, so… idolatry.

In the preface to Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water, Sarah Zarr makes this point:

Strangely, as much as I heard the word secular as a label on things that should be avoided by good Christians, I don’t ever remember hearing the word sacred as its opposite. Instead, I heard the words clean and safe. to describe what was not deemed worldly. Clean and safe. How puny those words are. What a pitiful reduction of the grandeur of the created world and its inhabitants. What a sad commentary on the church’s understanding of the God of the universe.

We were never meant for clean and safe. We were meant for sacred. Sometimes sacred overlaps with clean and safe, often not.

So rather than clean and safe (or from a source that is without error), might I propose true, noble, lovely, pure, admirable, excellent, right, and good? Does it direct me to the God who is without error?

I am over “fear of contamination” as a justification for any choice I make.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 31-days-of-speaking-the-truth-1-1.png

This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.


how I study the Bible

A friend of mine asked, after I’d published this post on spiritual practices, how I did word study and inductive study.

There are lots of people who say lots of things about this, and probably better than I will. Ordinarily I’d just direct the question that way, but October is long and I’m only halfway through it, so… sure!

Word study

When I have a topic I want to drill down into, this is how I go about it: I pull out my concordance (metaphorically—actually I open Blue Letter Bible on my phone) and search a word. Right now, I’m reading a tiny book by Beth Moore that’s based on a study of the word “pit”—how people get in them, stay in them, get out. I look at all the verses in the Bible with the word I’m searching, see what original-language words the various writers used. Is it always the same? Are there a couple different words? If there are different ones, what are the differences in nuance between them? I generally fall into a rabbit hole or two or three in this process, examining obscure stories I’d forgotten, looking at characters I want to know more about, etc. But by the time I’ve gone all the way through my list of verses and associated bunny trails, I have a fairly reasonable grasp on What the Bible Says About ____. If I want to or have reason to or if the results of my search were especially multifaceted, sometimes I’ll organize my thoughts on paper, but usually there’s not much call for it.

Inductive study

This is the form of study I do more frequently. I’ll pick a book of the Bible (frequently whatever Eric is preaching on at church) and dive in. I tend to use Precept upon Precept studies, but you don’t have to. Basically, it involves looking at the text, finding key or repeated words (often marking them, either in my Bible or, more frequently, on a double-spaced copy), seeing what’s there. In a study Bible (or in my Precepts study), there are cross-references to see what other books say about this event or this period in time. When I did a study of Esther this past summer, I kept a running list of what I knew about each of the characters, a list of details about each of the many feasts and the various decrees. I looked at the ways God (who is not mentioned) orchestrates events throughout. Frequently, this involves, again, pulling out the concordance or Bible dictionary to learn the nuances of the words being chosen. Sometimes (typically after I’ve done all the above steps) I wind up consulting commentaries. (Can I plug the BLB app again? It’s free! Concordance! Dictionaries! Cross-references! Commentaries! On your phone!)

In my regular life

Some people do this daily. When I order studies, they’re typically laid out as five days a week. I’ve tried to do this, but it hasn’t worked well for me. Rather than finding 20 minutes to half an hour a day for study, I do far better setting aside a couple hours one evening after bedtime to do it all at once. I find it takes the 20-30 minutes to just get my brain in a good space for this, so doing it daily is frustrating—it feels like drudgery for the first little bit, and then about the time I get into it, the day’s work is done. I think of both of these as analogous to “date night” study. My relationship with Andrew is enhanced by dates, but not sustained by them. Going out on dates every day would be fun, but not realistic. In the same way, I find a few hours once a week to be kind of the ideal blend of helpful and manageable.

This post doesn’t feel very exciting or story-driven, but I challenge you to try it—the Word of God is both.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 31-days-of-speaking-the-truth-1-1.png

This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.

Acing Motherhood (guest post at Kindred Mom)

Hello! I’m over at Kindred Mom today! Feel free to read on for part of my piece or click here for the whole thing right now (if you’re into instant gratification and stuff).


I grew up the oldest of five, so I knew all there was to know about mothering. I’d seen infancy. I lived all of my formative years watching (and helping, and “helping”) my mother take care of babies. I spent my teenage years babysitting and working at camp and serving in the church nursery and various kids’ programs.  I actually (annoyingly) read parenting books of all kinds well before any children arrived—I had this parenting thing NAILED DOWN. I was one of the last in my circle to have babies (I was a whopping 28), but no matter—I could talk parenting theory with great authority and depth.

And then I had my first baby, Jenna.

Usually, this would be the part of the story where we all chuckle together at how wrong I was and how I embarrassed myself with my know-it-all pre-kid attitude. But instead, Jenna reinforced everything. She didn’t throw me off. I remember looking around thinking, “Man, all my friends had this really difficult initiation into motherhood. I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.” I’m not proud of it, but there it is. A persnickety nap schedule was my only hint I didn’t have it all under control—and maybe not everything was mine to control—otherwise, I pretty much had the whole situation managed.

I had it so managed, we decided immediately to have another


(Head over to Kindred Mom to read about the inevitable faceplant.)


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 31-days-of-speaking-the-truth-1-1.png


This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.

my best life

The clean black and white lines of the cafe stand in contrast to the dappled shadows on the wood floor of the trees as the midmorning sun streams through the wall of windows. The familiar din of low conversation is punctuated by the hiss of espresso machine and the clinking of mugs behind the counter. There’s a smell in the air I can’t quite place—the coffee is obvious, but there’s also eucalyptus and something else, probably from a plant I don’t recognize. There are a lot of those here. I sit at a small, square table across from Jill editing a post for tomorrow as she works on lesson plans. Jill and I are, by any personality indicator we’ve found, the same person, so sitting together and being introverts is the most comfortable and natural thing in the world. As I sit here immersed in beauty and comfort, I think, “I am living my best life right now.”

Immediately, the guilt hits me: This isn’t my best life! My real life has kids in it—a lot of them—and I wouldn’t trade them for anything! There are happy giggles and less-happy sibling fights and hugs and chubby hands and babies who have somehow turned into whole people with clever senses of humor and opinions about everything.

As I process more, though, I think the guilt was misplaced. This is my best life. The whole thing. It’s the one I have, so, by definition, it’s the best I’ve got. But also? It’s a really, really good one.

I don’t need to feel bad about enjoying time away from my “regular” life. When I’m home, my time is carefully organized around getting space away from my children. It’s not that I don’t love them (duh), but as an introvert (and a highly sensitive one, at that), I need to pull back a little in order to show up for them as their best mama. During the day, I have “bathroom breaks” for a few minutes here and there—usually about three before the shrieking begins—and nap time. Only one of my children actually sleeps during naps, but they all do quiet things—screens, often—so I can have some space of my own to think my own thoughts and get my own chores done. Each week, I have a morning where I get up at an unholy hour to go to the gym before arriving at Starbucks as soon after their opening (at 5) as I can manage. There’s a tiny chunk where I pay a 13-year-old to watch the two who are neither in school nor napping while I stay in my room for an hour and a half. Every other week, I get a Monday night “out,” which is usually spent hiding in my room again, because who wants to waste precious time driving somewhere? Not me.

Do I feel selfish about this?

Yes I do.

Am I being selfish?

I don’t know. Probably sometimes. But most of the time, I kinda doubt it. I know how I get when I haven’t had any space. It actually feels more like I haven’t had any air. Like I’m being suffocated under all these needs and noises and children and I love them and also I can’t breathe. It’s hard for me to love them well from this place.

So I try not to have to.

So here I am, sitting on the curtained-off porch at my Airbnb. I had the morning with Jill (at the coffee shop, among other places) and the rest of the day is mine to use as I please. I hardly know what to do with discretionary time, but the day stretches ahead of me, blank and full of options, all of them good.

Do I miss my kids?

Nope.

I miss my husband’s company, and I enjoy thinking about my kids. I love the photos I periodically get from whoever’s watching them now. I look forward to getting home to see them. But do I wish I was home with them? No. Do I wish they were here with me? Also no.

And it’s fine. I’ll probably miss them about the time I need to leave, and the long travel home will accentuate my desire to be there. Once I arrive, I’ll be better able to mother them well than I was when I left.

In the Wilderking trilogy by Jonathan Rogers, a phrase appears routinely:

Live the life that unfolds before you.

So that’s what I’m doing. And it’s my best life for sure.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 31-days-of-speaking-the-truth-1-1.png

This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.

remembering Elchanan

I met my nephew three years ago today. Amber had been in labor more than a day. After he was born, she called to see if I’d like to come meet him. It was about 10pm, but I hopped in my car and drove the ten minutes to the hospital. I think I called a friend or two along the way to let them know what was up and ask them to pray. My stomach hurt.

This wasn’t a normal, happy birth. My sister was more than 30 weeks pregnant when a normal prenatal appointment revealed no heartbeat. She went in for induction.

When we arrived at the hospital, his daddy was holding him. My mom was there, her in-laws, the other sister who lives in town. We were in the Women’s Center, but they had her tucked away at the end of a hall to give her privacy and a little bit of space from the other laboring mamas whose babies all wailed when they finally arrived.

My nephew did not wail.

The were trying to come up with a name. Michael Ray had been discussed, then discarded because of its similarity to Miley Ray, Amber explained in a hazy, drugged voice. She hadn’t slept in a day and a half. The labor had been difficult—more difficult than I’d have imagined for a baby just shy of three pounds—and in addition to birthing a tiny human, the meds made her really sick and she was doing the harder work of grieving the loss of that same child.

“Do you want to hold him?”

He was light. Two pounds and fifteen ounces. His fingers and toes were perfect. He was perfect. But he was too cold and too limp. I wanted to give this yet-unnamed little boy all the love I could pour into him in this tiny window I was able to hold him. Well, not him. His body. We passed him around—sister, Nana, Grandma and Grandpa… eventually my dad also came, toting this sweet boy’s big sister. She was three then. “He… doesn’t look very good to me,” she said in her little Minnie Mouse voice. We all chuckled at her honesty—because of his gestational age, his mouth and tongue were super red and it did look kind of funny. A photographer came by to get the only pictures my sister would have of him.

I remember the quiet compassion of the nurses. They offered just enough support without being overbearing. I remember the kindness of Annie, the photographer, getting some images to remember him by. I remember lots of tears and some nervous laughter—it was quite a crowd in that little hospital room, and none of us knew quite how to be.

I remember after a while, my youngest sister and I sensed it was time to go. They were going to need to take him soon, and we’d been there, taking turns holding this swaddled little baby for a while. We each got in our cars. She left, I think, and I sat in my car and wailed. I cried harder than night than ever before or since.

The weight of saying goodbye to my nephew who didn’t yet have a name was possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I’m not the mama.


There’s a weird expectation around miscarriage and stillbirth and maybe death in general… The pain is supposed to fade with time. The world keeps moving, and eventually it expects you to keep up with it, but no grief of mine has been so well-behaved. It hits in waves, sometimes allowing levity when least expected, other times crushing suddenly after years.


I’m trying to figure out why I’m even writing this. Mostly, I want to mark it. His life mattered. It left a mark. I will not forget him, and I’m thankful forever that Amber let me come hold him in those hours his body was available for holding.

He didn’t stay nameless, by the way. His parents named him Elchanan, Hebrew for “God has been gracious.”


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 31-days-of-speaking-the-truth-1-1.png


This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.

such a time as this

He acted more like a cross between a spoiled toddler and a frat boy than the head of the world’s superpower. Unfortunate, but there it was. When things didn’t go as he wanted them to, he threw massive, public tantrums with permanent and far-reaching results. He spoke without thinking; he made foreign policy with little to no concern for consequences. He abused women, choosing them strictly for their ability to make his fratboy buddies jealous and horny. (Which wife was he on, anyway?) He used his position to advance personal vendettas. He was ready to stand by and watch as an entire race was exterminated—his was the only one that mattered at all, anyway.

Esther usually gets credit for saving God’s people from slaughter in ancient Persia.

(What spoiled despot did you think I was referring to???)

“For such a time as this” and all. Esther is commended for her bravery and Mordecai is venerated for not bowing to wicked Haman.

But the force behind the salvation of Israel is named nowhere in the book. The God of Israel was working in a very particular time through very particular (and frequently hilarious—occasionally slapstick) means to save the people he loved.

I love that Esther spoke up. I love how Mordecai wisely coached her through her years as queen of Persia.

But more? I love that God, though unnamed, carefully orchestrated events. A number of times throughout the book, it looked pretty bleak for either our heros or the entire displaced nation of Israel. Haman built a gallows (75 feet tall!) for Mordecai. Esther hadn’t been called to see the king in a month (he had countless concubines, remember) and the penalty for approaching him without summons could have been death. Haman, the baddie with a generations-deep grudge against Jews, and arranges for them to be exterminated throughout the far-reaching Persian empire—it included both the Jews in Persia and the ones remaining in Israel. (The king was not especially hard to convince. “You want to kill, destroy, and annihilate who now? Oh, never mind. Go for it.”)

This story has always been my favorite, and largely because of what it reveals about the God who is never named in the story. (Foremost: He has a great—sometimes dark—sense of humor.) Esther and Mordecai did what was appointed to them for such a time as this.

I don’t always see the Holy King of Israel working here in America. He’s evident in the beauty He’s created in the world and He’s creating in His people, but the news cycle makes it easy to forget He’s at work in everything. And I don’t want to equate America with Israel, certainly—we’re far more like Persia in this story. I don’t even want to equate believers within America with the Jews in Susa. We’re not in exile and not being persecuted (Starbucks releasing plain red cups at Christmas does. not. count.)

But our God is the same. He’s at work in the idiosyncratic and embarrassing details of the world we’re actually inhabiting. The bleakest circumstances set us up for the most dramatic reversals. He delights in revealing His glory through amazing pictures of redemption. I don’t know quite what he’s doing, exactly, but I know He’s making all things new.

That’s enough for me to keep being faithful, as best I can, in the cirumstances he’s appointed to me.

For such a time as this and all.


Disclaimer: this post was written from miles above the earth’s surface in an aluminum tube. It was either two or three in the morning (time zones are hard when you’re flying) and I was elbowing myself in the love-handles. Resemblances between the characters in this story and living, breathing humans are entirely coincidental. Maybe.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 31-days-of-speaking-the-truth-1-1.png


This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.

five for friday, volume 2

Hey, friends! I hope you’ve had a really good week. As you read this, I’m hopefully resting and reading and hanging with a friend in Santa Barbara. As I write it, though, I’m at my dining room table in Fairbanks. There’s snow.

Anyway. Here we go!

Kid quote:

(Lilly is crying after she’s been put to bed.)
Andrew: Lilly, what’s wrong?
Lilly: I need my hotty book!
A: Your… hotty book?
L: My hotty book!
A: What color is it?
L: White!
A: Does it have a bear in it?
L: Yes.
A: Does it have a kid in it?
L: Yes.
A: Does it have a water bottle in it?
L: Yes.
A: I don’t know any book with a water bottle in it. I’m sorry, baby, you’re gonna have to either find clearer words or do without.
L: HOTTY BOOK!
A: I don’t know what a “hotty book” is.
(repeat for several minutes…)
L: Hahahaha! Here it is! In my hand!
A: HOCKEY PUCK. Say “Hockey puck.”

Book:

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. I mentioned this in yesterday’s post. It’s gentler than I expected it to be, but still poking me constantly. I’m reading both slowly and obsessively. Honest and thorough and answering every one of my white-worldview questions.

Recommendation:

I came across this 22-second video ages ago, but I thought of it again lately and it will never not be adorable:

Moment of Happiness:

Last weekend, we went to a fall festival at the fairgrounds. We tried to leave right after Jenna got home from school, but J was having NONE OF IT. Her attitude was horrible. She wanted to stay home. She wailed and dragged her feet and catastrophized. I sent Sarah to talk to her and eventually we herded her into the car. By the time we got to the fairgrounds, her attitude had changed entirely. Look how much fun she was having!

Little bit of nature:

It’s getting chilly here.


This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.

redefining racism

The last time I wrote about race, I got some pushback, kind but stubborn, against the idea that I would call myself racist under any circumstances. “Surely you don’t believe other races are inferior,” went the reply. “You can’t possibly be racist.”

Webster’s defines racism like so:

a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

It fits. Not the second part, but I show discrimination in my everyday life, whether I mean to or not. (And, to be clear, I don’t mean to.)

Now before you run off in disgust, the idea that I’m even typing these things makes me feel really gross. But the fact remains: I live a pretty monochromatic life. Segregation is no longer legal, but it still happens all. the. time. I see white people on tv, in ads, white faces on most of my kids’ dolls. Most of my friends are white, not because I don’t want to be friends with people of color, but because I simply don’t know very many of them.

So, while intellectually I know that we’re all made in the image of God, I’m fighting years of indoctrination that says racism used to be a thing, but we’re all color blind and enlightened now.

The reality is, it is far easier to move about this world as a white person. I’m less likely to be stopped as I’m driving, I’m less likely to die in childbirth by a wide margin, and as my son grows, I don’t have to coach him on how he should dress in order to be perceived as less threatening. Nobody shadows me when I shop. Frankly, I don’t have to think about my race at all. I’m just a regular person.

And therein lies my racism. “I’m just a regular person.” I have friends (not many) who are black. But I’m not white, I’m just regular.

You guys, of course I’m not “racist” in the sense I typically hear it used. Almost nobody is. (Well. I mean, there are certain prominent national figures, but anyway.) But the racism I’m dealing with in my own heart is just as dangerous—maybe more because it’s covert. I’m reading a book called White Fragility right now. I’ll probably have more to say about it before I’m done (I’m only about a third in right now), but it’s making me intensely uncomfortable in some really important ways. When I tell myself, “we’re all just people, I’m teaching my children to be kind to all people no matter the skin color,” I’m doing something really bad: I’m lumping myself in with black/indigenous/latino people. I’m projecting my experience onto people who aren’t white, assuming they’ve been living in the same world and experiencing it in the same way.

We haven’t been living in the same world. I’ve been living in a mostly-segregated white-dominated world inside my white body, which affords me a much easier experience than living in a mostly-segregated white-dominated world inside a black body would be.

It’s so fast and easy to hear “racism” and think “KKK” and instantly dismiss it. “That’s not me! Those racists are awful! All those burning crosses and stuff…” And then (again, because white) I can walk on with my day and not give another thought to it.

But the KKK isn’t the kind of racism most people of color are dealing with. We need to reframe how we look at race.

Just being “unlike the KKK” is far low to set the bar.

People of color aren’t (usually) dealing with overt, noisy white supremacy; they’re dealing with systemic racism—the kind that means the poverty rate for black people is double or more that of white people in most states. Incarceration is similarly (relatedly) terrible.

So… we can say these discrepancies are a matter of racism or we can call them a matter of life choices. After all—if you’re choosing not to work, you may end up in poverty, and if you steal something, you might wind up in jail.

If I argue this problem is not systemic racism but one of poor choices, that America is a meritocracy and you get what you earn, then rationally black and latino people make WAY worse choices than white people do. If white people make better choices than people of color, how could I possibly defend my stance that we’re all created equal? If I believe black people are disproportionately poor and imprisoned because they make bad choices that white people don’t make, then I am a racist by the classic, ugly, white-supremacist definition in which I believe white people are qualitatively better than other colors.

Let me be clear: I think it’s systemic racism and not poor choices that land too many black and brown people in poverty and jail.

And I’m part of the problem.

Because, while I do believe our souls are the same, I don’t pay enough attention to the way our experiences are different. And I’m still grappling with what to do about it. Clearly, I can read more, listen more, be curious and not defensive. But I don’t know how to even wrap my head around the policies and systems that are all kinds of wrong.

I do know we need to talk about it more. So here I am. I’ve probably said several things in this piece that I didn’t realize were racially problematic because I’m only learning. No pretty bows, just opening up the conversation. I would love for us to define racism as something other than “hate for other races.” Not feeling hate is not the same as equal treatment. Let’s raise the bar.


This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.

community in family

Yeah, I’ve meant to talk to you about her,” read the text. “She doesn’t listen to instruction in any context.”

Well.

I mean, yes, I know this to be true of this particular child, of course. But so often our children behave better for non-mom adults. I had hoped this might be the case. Evidently not. The inevitable flood of mom shame washed over me. I breathed through it, and replied.

Can we get together to talk about it?

She agreed and the day arrived with the normal amount of anxiety one expects when handling a child’s persistent behavior issues. I greeted this lifelong friend with what I hoped was only a little defensiveness, and we launched right in. She began, “I’ve been thinking about it. She has problems with impulse control and personal space.”

“Yes. That’s true.” (What else can I say? I fight this battle in my home nearly every minute this particular child is awake. This is not news to me.)

“They both come from an inability to live in community with others.”

Oh.

Yes, actually. Not only are these issues community problems, but the majority of the behavioral challenges we face with all four children can be summed up as difficulty living in community. They (not unlike their parents)  have a hard time seeing past their selfish desires to the needs of people around them, and it leads to all kinds of conflict and sin.


This one phrase—“living in community”—has subtly shifted the culture of our family over the last several months. It’s changed how we look at and talk about daily interactions. We strive to give our kids the tools they need to live well with each other. Living in community as the Chapman family means ­­­we have a shared story, we seek gratitude, and we create an atmosphere of grace and truth.

In the baby years, a shared story is assumed. Through my first months of motherhood, my firstborn and I basically functioned as a single unit. As my kids have grown in age and number, it’s become easy to look at our family life as a bunch of individual needs to meet and personalities to manage and problems to solve. When we start looking through the lens of “shared story,” these fragments come together. We’re still individuals, but we work as a unit to support each other, to celebrate victories and manage difficulties.

Because we love and serve a God who gives gifts graciously and abundantly, gratitude is to be our identity. Since I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts several years ago, I’ve kept a gratitude journal. While I remember very little about the content of her book, the practice of thanking God for little things has been transformative for my heart and mind. I now find myself automatically looking for blessings throughout my day, and they somewhat regularly spill out of my mouth in my children’s presence. I didn’t even realize this until I heard my daughter, then a toddler, exclaim in the car, “Mama! Look at the beautiful sky! We should thank Jesus for it!” My heart warmed, and I obliged.  Now, this isn’t to say that the same child doesn’t struggle with entitlement at least as often as she expresses her thanks, but I’m happy that she (and the others) know how to find their “thankful hearts.” Now we’re working on finding and expressing gratitude for each other. This comes less automatically for each of us; we’re trying to grow that direction.

The grittiest part of any community is cultivating an atmosphere of grace and truth. Grace allows us to come to each other with the understanding that we will each sin and be sinned against, but we will just as certainly experience and extend forgiveness. This creates safe space for truth to thrive. Truth is more than “not lying” and directly confronting problems. It is speaking the things that are right and good. In our family, we have always had a pretty good handle on the need to avoid deceit and tackle issues, but only since we’ve been looking at truth as a necessary climate for community have we considered the other (much larger) part of truth. It’s becoming important to us to affirm the positive things we see in our kids and their behavior and attitudes and to celebrate the good we encounter and the contributions each person makes to the family unit. When we love truth—the whole of it—as a family, the harder parts of truth feel a little safer. I see this clearly in marriage—my husband and I generally speak what is right and good about each other and our relationship. So when a problem needs to be addressed, it’s in the context of the larger truth, and we can often talk about it as calmly and unapologetically as the weather, because safety is well established. I want to make this safety the norm with my little people as well.

I wish I could say that our family is really good at each of these aspects of community. We’re not. We struggle constantly even to remember that community is our goal. But, as with any core value or vision statement, this focus gives us something to grow toward. And we are growing. The child I mentioned earlier, while she still struggles to listen, control her impulses and respect personal space of others, is showing glimmers of understanding. Yesterday, after a fight with a couple of her siblings, she came to me in tears, telling me she might need to give up a particular toy that was at the heart of the struggle. “Cheetah is causing us to fight, so I think I might have to give her up to repair my relationships.” I believe she can probably learn to live in community with or without this particular stuffed animal, but that her relationships with her siblings outweigh her need for her very favorite toy gives me hope for all of us.


My thoughts on community have been heavily influenced by Living Into Community by Christine D. Pohl.

 



This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.